Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll celebrates THE UNDERRATED PARENT: YAY, DADS!!!

Sunday is Father’s Day. Wishing in advance every Daddy a beautiful day of gifts and good food and a toast to a job well done. God Bless you every one.

I am hardly the first to notice the importance of Daddies, but I will go so far as to say that the very future of America depends on a renewed interest in them. And I will also say that unless a father is a hopeless and unrepentant substance abuser, a sexual abuser of his children (God forbid), or a physically violent man, even a rather mediocre father is better than none. Much, much better. THAT’S how important Daddies are, in my opinion.

I am a Geezer-American of the generation raised by the returning World War II and Korean vets. With rare exceptions, these guys were our FATHERS, not our “pals.” They were tough guys who were the kind of Daddies that had not heard of a “time out,” except in sports. Guys who, when they whistled that it was time to come in from play, meant THAT IT WAS TIME TO COME IN, no foolin’ around! With Mom, you might have a chance to push the envelope, to wait for her to add your middle name when she called. With Daddy, best to hustle on home.

Not one single Dad in my neighborhood looked or acted anything like Father Knows Best or any of the sitcom Dads when we (eventually) got television. For one thing, those Dads seemed just to sit around the house all day in a coat and tie, gently handing out advice to well-dressed children with cute nicknames like Princess and Kitten. All the Dads in my neighborhood worked for a living and were gone most of the day and often into the evening.

I only knew one Daddy who could have passed muster as one of those gentle, quiet, non-yelling, pipe-smoking, understanding Daddies and that was my bestie Bonnie’s Daddy who was also a minister, technically, a priest, since he was Episcopalian. I loved him though I thought of him as more or less a Unicorn, not a Daddy found in Nature.

Not once did I hear Fred McMurray (My 3 Sons), or Robert Young (Father Knows Best) say, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Guys who had been in combat had little tolerance for a lot of shrieking over a skinned knee. And I, for one, am grateful. We learned to be tough and resilient. To suck it up and get on with it. For example, at about age eleven, I sustained a four-inch long gash in my thigh on barbed wire playing Hide ‘N Seek in the dark in unfamiliar territory at my friend’s cabin. Just like John Kerry’s “hat,” I have the scar to this day. It probably required several stitches and a tetanus shot, but it seemed like too much trouble to all involved, and Daddy eventually stopped the bleeding and just put iodine on it and bandaged it up and gave me baby aspirin.

I used to watch Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas. The insufferable little boy called Rusty would routinely talk back to his Dad and stomp off and slam his bedroom door. And yet remained alive. Curious. To paraphrase Ike Clanton in Tombstone, our Daddy would have said, “What did you just say? Backtalk don’t go ’round here, back-talker.” He was not actually a violent man, but he looked like he COULD be, and that was enough for us. He commanded more respect than fear, but fear was always on the table.

When we became semi-adults, my friends and I would have been MORTIFIED to have to seek shelter in a room with plush toys and Play-Doh in college – COLLEGE, for the love of God! — because someone had committed the unpardonable sin of DISAGREEING with us. How did we come to this? When did this appalling wussification start?

We would have been ashamed to whine that we felt “unsafe” if a speaker that wasn’t to our liking was invited on campus to an event we could choose not to attend. “Safe” meant one of two things: either the guy who slid into base was not “out” and forced to go back to the dugout or that the doors were shut (rarely locked) against the elements, our Daddy was home, and we had food and shelter.

To this day, when my car is filled with gas, my fridge and larder are filled with food, my linen closet has extra toilet tissue, and my husband is home, I feel at peace and “safe.” Apparently, I am a big fan of “toxicity” because I really like to have a man around the house. (Remember Maria Muldaur song “Richland Woman” (by Mississippi John Hurt)? “Rooster say cockadoodle doo/Richland woman say any-dude’ll do.”) I actually have one specific “dude” in mind to feel safe at home.

We have had 50 years now of praise for “strong, independent women” and especially for single mothers. There are such valiant women to be sure, some in my own family – women who are widowed, divorced, left by crummy husbands, and many tens of thousands who never married at all, doing their best to raise children alone. But it is often a tragedy, not something to be celebrated. And there is a cost – to the children, to the society. Besides, we mothers already had our own special day in May. This isn’t about us.

I rise to sing the praises of MEN in general, and fathers in particular – my husband, my brother, my late father, my own son and the dozens of righteous men I am honored to call friends. Men who for decades got up at dawn to farm or open a small place of business, or drive semis or go into the ruthless jungles of cubicles to code or the corner office to practice Law! And who then came home, eager to put their feet up and watch sports, and instead went to watch kids play soccer in a 0-0 shoot-out in the rain, or help with homework, or, please God, no, attend a small daughter’s 17-hour dance recital in which her group performed 3rd and 43rd so he couldn’t even bug out after she was on.

Can you imagine a popular slogan, “A man needs a woman like a lizard needs a scooter”? Boo! Hissss! Sexist! Yet, for decades it has been a source of alleged amusement to assert that “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Well, it turns out that was not just moronic, but dead wrong. It seems that while fish can, indeed, get along without bicycles, children without Daddies are poorer, do less well in school, and are several times more likely to end up in prison.

Here’s a partial list of what Daddies bring to the party, besides a rather critical initial contribution to parenthood itself:

ECONOMIC SECURITY: Many the year Joe and I did not do that great individually, but we quickly learned that even two crummy jobs can work out to one pretty good one. Plus we often “took turns” pursuing a dream (standup comic, solo law practitioner, novelist, pro bono columnist) while the other one did a boring but steady job to bring home the (turkey) bacon.

We even took turns being home with our little boy while only one of us worked, two years for me (who was, after all, the main source of his food at that time, formula shortages not an issue…), and one year for Joe, who, thank the dear Lord, had no mortifying breast-feeding apparatus. Not that a three-year-old would be in need of one.

ROLE MODELING: From my experience, I think about 95 percent of Daddies provide a positive example to their sons on how to be proper men and to their daughters on what to look for in a proper husband. The other 5 percent are also role models, if negative ones. I know several men with mildly disturbing to horrific childhoods who determined never to behave in a like manner and turned out to be fine parents. Men teach responsibility, emotional restraint, self-discipline, and valuable skills such as managing up to eight remotes at a time, explaining why the Designated Hitter is either the work of the Devil or an exciting innovation and deciphering the mysteries of the Infield Fly Rule. By the way, I do not think women have any better rate of positive and negative role modeling. I have known several women with mothers from hell.

SAFETY: Are you kidding me? I don’t personally know any fathers who would not risk life and limb for the safety of their children and, generally speaking (lol), their wives as well. Though we never had a handgun in the house, Daddy was a hunter with lots of deer rifles and shotguns. He taught my brother to hunt, but my sister and I had no interest. In my dotage when I finally learned to shoot, he was very proud of my marksmanship and kept souvenir targets in his Assisted Living apartment to show to friends.

HOME IMPROVEMENT: Men open jars, although often we ladies have “loosened” them. They take out trash, they do painting and heavy lifting and move furniture when we ladies take a notion to rearrange things. Some are very good cooks. Most are Certified Experts in the Loading of Dishwashers. I have HEARD of men who vacuum. They carry sleeping children up the stairs. My father did all manner of home maintenance, in a home that was perfectly clean from my mother and perfectly maintained by my father. Everything worked.

FUN: Daddies teach us to bait hooks and ride bikes, hanging on to the fender until we get the idea. They teach us to catch a variety of balls and buy us Louisville Sluggers and teach us to drive. They quiz us on the vocabulary words in Reader’s Digest. They can carve a boat out of a bar of soap for a 7th Grade Art class when three previous attempts to do so have ended in tears and soap shards. They teach us to open a Savings Account and assure us that “there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’” when we are so young that we think maybe he means he is going to start charging us to eat at home.

Sometimes Daddies can even be an ally against a lovely but temporarily unreasonable mother who might not think a tasteful strapless formal is an appropriate garment for a 16-year-old to wear to a Prom. “Can she hold it up?” he might ask, hypothetically. “If she can, she can wear it.” And so she did. Pictures of the Prom dress and a viewing of the aforementioned barbed wire scar available for a small fee the next time we are together in person.

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